Design detour on a mid-century dresser


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130g MCM by Martha Leone Design

130b MCM by Martha Leone Design

In these extremely cold early days of January, I have been shopping for vintage furniture and planning the next steps for the growth of this small business. Apart from finishing this recent piece, I haven’t spent much time in the workshop since before Christmas, and I miss it.

This recent dresser was sanded then painted in versatile colors that will withstand the test of time. I used Benjamin Moore Super White in satin for the outer frame and General Finishes Milk Paint in Queenstown Gray for the drawer fronts.

Although I’m satisfied with the final piece, it went through two design revisions. In this post, I’ll explain the problem then the solution. If you’re interested in reading about how I paint mid century pieces, check out some of my other posts.



This piece was slated for a customer who wanted the drawer fronts stained and the outer frame painted white. Although I was careful while sanding the drawers, that step proved to be devastating to the exceptionally thin veneer.

130process2 Martha Leone Design



Determined to incorporate the natural wood grain in the final design, I used Frog Tape to mask off areas that were not damaged and then covered the other areas with paint. Since the design was driven by the veneer’s condition, the outcome was a random asymmetrical layout which didn’t work for me although asymmetry is far more compelling than symmetry. The best asymmetrical designs feel random but are ordered and balanced at the same time. This design felt too arbitrary, not balanced. (To get a sense of how symmetry is more preferable than asymmetry, read the comments on one of my dressers that was recently featured on Apartment Therapy.)


In order to maintain a balanced design and minimize the arbitrary pattern, I “erased” some of the natural wood stripes with paint and ended up with a minimalistic design that worked better:

130 MCM by Martha Leone Design

130e MCM by Martha Leone Design

130c MCM by Martha Leone Design


B E F O R E   /    A F T E R


130 MCM by Martha Leone Design


Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.


Linking up: Miss Mustard Seed

Two Charcoal Pieces

#124c by Martha Leone design


I’ve been in serious production mode since Thanksgiving, trying to finish the custom orders for 2014. Yikes. It’s been busy. Today, I’m sharing two wonderfully constructed pieces, both painted similar shades of gray. The long dresser is available in my etsy shop and the other piece was a custom order.

After a bit of clean up and light sanding, I mixed a custom gray color with plaster of paris mixture then proceeded to paint both two coats of gray. They were distressed then sealed with Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane. The long dresser was first painted a lighter shade, then topped off with the charcoal color.

These dressers always provide a nice break from the mid century pieces that need far more prep and care. I’ve written many posts that detail how I prep and paint my mid century furniture. Or, peruse the MID CENTURY PORTFOLIO  where any image will take you to a post.


#124 by Martha Leone design

#124b by Martha Leone design



Maple Charcoal Buffet by Martha Leone Design

Maple Charcoal Buffet1 by Martha Leone DesignMaple Charcoal Buffet3 by Martha Leone DesignMaple Charcoal Buffet4 by Martha Leone Design



Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.

Linking up:
Miss Mustard Seed

My approach to styling photos

Dixie by Martha Leone Design Dixie2 by Martha Leone Design


Styling can be challenging because I don’t have enough stuff sitting around to ensure variety in my photos. So, more often than not, I’ll use whatever is laying around as long as the objects support the color scheme I’m trying to pull off in the photo. Achieving a balance between color, shape, and scale are more important than styling a vignette with context or relevance.

D I X I E  D R E S S E R

Shape and texture were the priority in the styling of a recent Dixie dresser. The old newspapers and pictures were found in the bottom drawer of a recently purchased art deco dresser and gave me just enough texture to balance the slick finishes on the piece. I used the old pictures with the slightly ornate frames to balance the straight lines of the Dixie.

Dixie5 by Martha Leone Design

Dixie4 by Martha Leone Design

Dixie3 by Martha Leone Design



Broyhill by martha leone design

Broyhill8 by martha leone design

The paint brushes and white wall were chosen for this photoshoot for a couple of reasons:
Shape: The brushes mimic the vertical shapes on the cabinet door. Also, the curved decorative elements and original drawer hardware both taper from wide to thin.

Keep the color monochromatic: This piece is about shape and line, not color. So adding saturated color would have detracted from the overall design concept.

Broyhill3 by martha leone designBroyhill4 by martha leone designBroyhill7 by martha leone design

Broyhill2 by martha leone design



Often times, I’m most interested in showcasing some or all of the beautiful veneers in my mid century pieces. However some of these vintage pieces come to me with damage that can only be repaired and painted. So, the decision to paint or stain is made based on where the damage is. The design on the top of this buffet hides a deep gouge in the surface while still highlighting the beauty of the wood veneer. I used Bondo to fix the damage. It’s super easy to use and dries to a very hard finish.

photo 1

photo 2


Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.





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#131MCMc tallboy Martha Leone Design#131aMCMtallboy Martha Leone Design

You’ve seen this color combo many times. In the past month, I’ve completed over seven mid century pieces, all in Benjamin Moore Super White and either Dark Walnut or English Chestnut. Although monotony or repetition can suppress creativity, I continually come back to these color combinations because I want my furniture to be versatile. Versatility allows my furniture to withstand a client’s change in style or a move to a new home and hopefully saves them from having to spend money on new pieces as their taste changes.

#131MCMd tallboy Martha Leone Design #131MEMtallboy Martha Leone Design#131MFMtallboy Martha Leone Design

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In our home, most of the furniture is neutral and color is reserved for the walls.  Here are just a few vignettes of the shades in our home.

Kitchen Martha Leone copyKitchen: Benjamin Moore Super White and Jet Black

White Cabinet7 by MarthaLeoneDesign
Living Room: Benjamin Moore Perfectly PestoRecord Cabinet1 MarthaLeoneDesign

Gray Buffet 2Martha Leone Design
Dining Room and son’s room: Benjamin Moore Blackberry

White Dresser 1 MarthaLeoneDesign

Daughter’s Room: Benjamin Moore Orange Blossom

Gray and Cream MCM


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Gray-Cream4 Dresser by Martha Leone DesignGray-Cream5 Dresser by Martha Leone Design Gray-Cream3 Dresser by Martha Leone DesignGray-Cream Dresser by Martha Leone Design

This morning, I’m sharing another mid century dresser done in a long stream of custom work for clients who are expecting a baby. As with many of my custom pieces, my client found this dresser and had it delivered to my workshop. The project started out with a conversation over color and design then was followed up with these design options I drew in Adobe illustrator:Design optionsIf you’re interested in reading about how I paint mid century pieces, I detailed the process recently.

Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.

Linking up: Miss Mustard Seed • The Golden Sycamore/Design, Dining + Diapers  • My Repurposed Life  •  Vintage Storehouse  •  House of Hipsters  •  Finding Silver Pennies

Blue French Buffet and The Peacock Room


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Peacock French3 by Martha Leone DesignPeacock French by Martha Leone DesignDuring the summer, I took my daughter and friends to the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC. We discovered The Peacock Room for the first time and fell in love with the blue walls. After that experience, I’ve painted several pieces a shade of that beautiful blue. This french buffet was my first piece.

After lightly sanding it, I painted it two coats of a batch of homemade chalk paint using Behr Marquee paint. Then it was heavily sanded. While I love this shade of blue, I wanted this piece to have an aged and elegant feel so I applied dark walnut stain and wiped off most of it. After the stain was completely dry, I applied Minwax Wipe-On Poly with a staining pad.

Exterior: BEHR Marquee Opera Glasses
Interior: Benjamin Moore Dragonfly
Glaze: Minwax Dark Walnut Stain

Peacock French2 by Martha Leone Designphoto 2

The Peacock Room
Freer Gallery, Washington, DCphoto 1 photo 2 photo 3

Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.


Linking up: Miss Mustard Seed  •  Liz Marie Blog

A Gray Record Cabinet


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record cabinet by Martha Leone Design

Record cabinet before record cabinet3 by Martha Leone Design

record cabinet5 by Martha Leone Designrecord cabinet7 by Martha Leone Design

record cabinet8 by Martha Leone Design

record cabinet4 by Martha Leone Design

Since early September, I’ve been toggling between painting everything blue for my etsy shop (here’s why) and mid century custom orders. I receive custom order requests for mid century furniture almost every day and wish I could stock pile those amazing pieces so that everyone who wants one can have one!

This particular record cabinet was done for a customer after she saw a sample of a near identical piece my etsy shop. The feedback I got on that one piece was crazy and since then, I’ve been searching for more mid century record cabinets to add to my shop. Recently, I was fortunate enough to find two cabinets at a Goodwill store. The original tapered legs were missing but I knew I could find a supplier of vintage legs on Etsy. With a bit of searching, I found the legs at the length I wanted from a good supplier.

The beautiful pot was created by Jennifer Coffin, a friend of mine who is an accomplished potter. It’s available in her etsy shop!



Linking up: Miss Mustard Seed  •  The Golden Sycamore/Design, Dining + Diapers  •  My Repurposed Life  •  Vintage Storehouse  •  BrePurposed  •  Mod Vintage Life  •  My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia  •  My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia

Color Wheel Compliments

End tables4 by Martha Leone Design

These two happened last week as I was impatiently waiting for a layer of paint to dry on my latest mid century dressers. Grabbing some paint, I mixed two shades of a favorite blue and got going on these antique mahogany pieces. I’ve been painting many of the antiques in my shop this blue color and there’s a reason for that: The warm undertones on the wood work well with this cool blue compliment. So, although I like to use a variety of colors in my work, it seems more important to work with colors that enhance the origins of a piece.

Paint: I used Behr Marque paint in eggshell and mixed small batches of homemade chalk paint.* Underneath the top coat is a lighter shade of blue. I achieved this shade of blue, by accidentally mixing too much Plaster of Paris into the paint. Instead of throwing out the batch, I used it to create depth of color and texture.

* Home made chalk paint recipe: 3 parts paint to 1 part Plaster of Paris mixture (mix PoP with water till you get a smooth consistency).

End tables by Martha Leone Design End tables2 by Martha Leone DesignEnd tables5 by Martha Leone Design End tables6 by Martha Leone Design End tables7 by Martha Leone Design End tables8 by Martha Leone Design

End tables3 by Martha Leone Design

photo 1photo 6


Linking up to: Miss Mustard Seed  •  Liz Marie Blog  • Redoux Interiors  •  The Vintage Storehouse  •  Beyond The Picket Fence  •  My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia  •  The Interior Frugalista  •  Beyond the Picket Fence  •  Elizabeth and Company  •  The 36th Avenue  •  VMG206  •  DIY Showoff  •  Nifty Thrifty Things  • Bre Purposed  •  The Golden Sycamore • Mod Vintage Life  •  Coastal Charm  •  My Repurposed Life  •  Just a Girl and Her Blog  •  Finding Silver Pennies  •  Bre Purposed  •  The Golden Sycamore

How I Paint Mid Century Furniture


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MCM with Coffin3
MCM with Coffin

Both of these pieces were done for customers’ nurseries. I wish I had this sense of modern style when I was pregnant years ago with my kids! For those of you who want to know how I achieve a slick finished look on mid century pieces, a step by step list is below. Other resources that could be helpful:
• Resources for Mid Century Furniture Transformations

My Mid Century Portfolio

MCM with Coffin2

#114 MCM Dresser2 by Martha Leone Design #114 MCM Dresser by Martha Leone Design #114 MCM Dresser3 by Martha Leone Design





  1. SAND
    • Preparation for areas that will be painted:  Use an orbital sander at a low speed to scuff up the finish. Sand just enough to remove the sheen from the old finish.
    Preparation for areas that will be to be stained:
     Carefully sand the surface with an orbital sander at a medium to low speed till all stain and finish are removed. Clean then prep with Pre-Stain Conditioner. Follow directions on the container for dry time.
  2. PRIME
    After all sanding is completed, wipe away all dust and vacuum the interior of drawers and frame. Then, prime with oil by using a 6″ foam roller and a brush made for oil paints. I use Zinsser Cover Stain Oil Base Primer.
  3. Lightly sand after the primer dries. Wipe down. Now, you’re ready for paint.


P A I N T   &   F I N I S H

    I have found that two coats usually get the desired results. Sometimes three coats are necessary with certain whites. 6″ foam rollers work wonderfully on these pieces because most of the surfaces are flat without much detail work in the wood. I use a high quality brush to cover areas that the roller can’t reach.
  2. SEAL
    I apply wax on white surfaces and use either Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane or Varathane water-based polyurethane on color surfaces. For waxes, I use a white rag. For Wipe-On Polys I use a staining pad, and for Varathane water-based polys, I use a black brush (found near the stains at Home Depot).
    When I reuse original hardware and the customer wants a fresh coat of paint on the pulls, here’s what I do: Sand the surface, prime with an automotive spray primer, spray two coats of the desired color, and seal with a spray polyurethane.


Take a look at my entire mid century portfolio for more inspiration. Each image links back to the post written about that particular piece.

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The bowl on the first dresser in this post was designed and created by Jennifer Coffin, a friend of mine who is an accomplished potter. Her stunning work expresses a vast knowledge of this medium and her experimental techniques never cease to amaze me. Visit her etsy shop where you’ll find more examples of her work.